In spite of a blackout on the media, a historic David v Goliath struggle is taking place which effects every person on earth. One of the smallest countries in the world – the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) – is suing all nine nuclear-armed states at the International Criminal Court (ICJ) for their failure to implement the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), which they signed in 1968. Under Article VI, all signatories agreed, “to work in good faith for the elimination of nuclear weapons”. However, far from eliminating them, the nuclear-armed states are all at present engaged in modernizing their weapons.

No country has more reason for this lawsuit. From 1946 to 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear tests there, including the largest explosion ever made by America, codenamed Castle Bravo. At 15 megatons, this was 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. The US Atomic Energy Commission described the Marshall Islands as "by far the most contaminated place in the world".

This touches me personally. I can never forget in 1986 listening to a woman called Analong from the Marshall Islands speak at a meeting in St Stephen’s Church in Bath Street. She described how, as a little girl, she wondered at “snow“ falling from the sky after the explosion on Bikini Island.

She had suffered six miscarriages. Her sister had carried 13 dead babies. She described a nightmare world where women gave birth to “jellyfish” babies, and one live birth in eight was grossly deformed. Later, she gave testimony before the UN: “Of my family, these are the survivors: father. mother. brothers Tomi, Freddi. sister Api. These are the dead: sisters Lijon, Sari, Mata. brothers Wili, Kunio, Paul, Apolo. This is our history: blindness. thyroid tumours. miscarriages. jellyfish babies. Mental retardation. Sterility. Lung cancer, kidney cancer. liver cancer, sarcoma. lymphoma, leukemia ...

I do not weep for my lost babies. Two stillbirths. Three jellyfish - glassy, pulsing discoids that made the nurses sick. I no longer weep for the dead. The dead do not care. We are the people of the Marshall Islands. We are your experiment.”

Such hellish suffering can never be atoned for. We can only demonstrate our repentance by supporting an international treaty banning nuclear weapons for ever.

Brian Quail,

2 Hyndland Avenue,



Next week Barack Obama will visit Havana, only the second sitting US President to do so. It may be salutary to remind ourselves why many Republicans object to rapprochement with Cuba while a member of the Castro family still wields power.

Robert McNamara, US Defence Secretary during the 1962 Missile Crisis, met Fidel Castro in Havana in 1992. It was a 30th anniversary conference between old adversaries. McNamara heard from the dictator’s own lips that he had personally urged Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to launch at target US cities the 90 tactical warheads squirrelled away on the island. McNamara couldn’t believe his ears and asked for a retranslation, but he had it right: Castro was willing to initiate the destruction of nations in furtherance of an ideology.

President Kennedy played a cool hand as the world held its breath. Half a century on we do well to remember that human rationality has limits. Castro was an intelligent man but he was prepared to kill hundreds of thousands by starting a nuclear war that would almost certainly have laid waste the planet. His own island, his own people, would have been incinerated. He acknowledged as much to McNamara. This fact, preposterous, chilling, even unreal, is one of the most instructive of our recent history.

How many nations and factions today have both nuclear weapons and leaders who are ideologues? Castro never struck me as a madman, though McNamara’s report suggests he became unhinged; but some national leaders and other agitators today make Fidel seem almost saintly. His religion was Communism (Cuba is still not a free country); but there are several ideologies today many times more nihilistic. Do we rely too much on nuclear weapons at our peril?

Martin Ketterer

Tavistock Drive, Newlands,